January 24, 2009

Just Breathe

The weekend before my last day at work, I had to make an impromptu trip Upstate. Given my impending unemployment, I chose the cheapest means of getting up there and back: a last minute rental deal from National Car, with pickup at their LGA airport office. I used to rent cars there all the time when I lived in Brooklyn, but since moving to Manhattan I'd sort of forgotten it was an option.

Since it's kind of a pain to get to LGA from the city, I picked the car up the night before I had to leave, and took the occasion to drive over to the office to park illegally and dart upstairs for some heavy and bulky personal items that I was going to have to haul in a cab anyway - namely books, framed pictures and my Gold record.

Driving five hours upstate and back last weekend gave me some time to think about where I'm going, as this was a short-term journey that would lead right into one of indeterminate length and difficulty. It was snowy when I left at 8 a.m. Saturday morning, snowy through the Poconos and up most of Route 81N, and snowy in Syracuse. My whole body tensed up driving, and my breathing took on the same slow, deliberate rhythm as when I went skydiving and kept reminding myself to breathe so I wouldn't pass out.

A quick stop at Waffle House in Clarks Summit, PA on the way up, 24 hours of family time and doggie cuddling in Syracuse, and a last minute Denny's visit, and I was ready to come back and battle more snow. But this time, I was full of Pancake Puppies (which are basically fried balls of pancake batter) and not hungry when passing through the Scranton area, so I was able to drive all the way through on the way back instead of stopping for a waffle. Little did I know that Clarks Summit was my last chance to appreciate the warmer, milder weather before hitting something far more harrowing.

The closer I got to New York City, the snowier it got. Route 80E was completely whited-out, and mine was the lone car to brave the left-hand passing lane which was covered in fresh snow while all other cars drove single file in one slow lane. I knew where I was going, but I didn't know what was going to happen along the way. I kept my eyes open and fixed straight ahead. I tried to ignore the windshield wipers which obstructed my view every few seconds. And I resisted turning on headlight highbeams which would have reflected off the falling snow, cutting off my long-range vision.

approaching GW Bridge from Jerz

On 95N, traffic began to slow as we approached the George Washington Bridge, and I took the occasion to snap some photos of my journey. It was beautiful and terrifying. My driving was a little unsteady and off-center, but I was moving forward. Even on Harlem River Drive South, where the road was so slick that I couldn't tell if I was even driving in a real lane, and I competed with all the car service drivers for my space on the road while rounding each curve, I knew I would get back to LGA to return the car on time.

I have the same feeling as I approach my first week of unemployment. I know how the car works. I know what direction to drive in. I'm not sure what the other drivers are going to do around me, or how the weather might change while I'm behind the wheel, but if I just keep breathing, I'll get to where I'm going. And in the meantime, I'll pause just enough to enjoy the beauty and terror of the journey.

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